Switching gears for a week, on an immediately ‘actionable’ note - I would like to share good news about an amazing tree that grows very well in our area. It grows so rapidly that ones we planted from seeds early this February are already peaking over our fence after only five months.
Highly resilient to drought, Moringa oleifera is a native to the southern foothills of the Himalayans in northwestern India. Because of its highly nutritious content and diverse uses, it is being cultivated in Africa, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Mexico, Central and South America, Sri Lanka, and now, widely throughout permaculture gardens in Florida.
Thriving in semi-arid, sub-tropical, and tropical areas of the world, Moringa tolerates poor, dry, sandy soils, making it a very viable, edible tree for the Gulf Coast region boasting USDA hardiness zones 9 and 10 - growing well from Pasco County, Pinellas County, and further south. The only thing that stunts the growth of this beautiful tree is temperatures dropping below freezing for long periods.
Every part of this tree is edible. The leaves can be used as a fresh addition to green smoothies, salads, cooked in soups, or teas. Dried into a potent nutritional powder, Moringa fortifies any recipe. Dried, powdered Moringa leaves are sold at most health food stores now, and it averages around $50 per pound. Baby roots taste a lot like horseradish, but have an alkaloid, so they shouldn’t be used in large quantities.
Moringa is turning starvation around in many areas of the world. Even feeding the high protein leaves to malnourished cattle can increase animal weight 32%, and milk production jumps by 43 to 65%! Thus, feeding this nutritious powder to children who live in areas where malnutrition and starvation is rampant has literally saved lives. However, Moringa is also helpful for weight loss in countries where food vitality is low and obesity is high, because it enriches diets that lack nutrients and cause people to consume more unnecessary calories.
The seeds contain 30 to 40% oil, high in oleic acid. The defatted meal can be used in water purification to settle out sediments and undesirable organisms. In preliminary research, filtering with Moringa seed powder has been shown to diminish pollution and bacterial counts.
So, what nutritional value does Moringa oleifera boast? 100 grams of fresh Moringa leaves have 8.3 grams of protein, 434 milligrams of calcium, 404 milligrams of potassium, 738 milligrams of vitamin A, and 164 milligrams of vitamin C. Practically speaking, this is 7 times more vitamin C than oranges, 4 times more vitamin A than carrots, 4 times more calcium and twice as much protein than milk, 3 times more potassium than bananas, 3 times more vitamin E than spinach, and 3 times more iron than almonds!
Moringa is an anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and some claims include lowering blood pressure, fighting cancer, raising mood, mental clarity, and energy. Of course, controlled research needs to be done, but meantime very tangible results have been demonstrated in Africa, changing the starvation mortality rates.
Due to the high oil content of Moringa pods, they are being considered as a source for biodiesel manufacturing as well. The pods can be harvested and pressed for their oil, without compromising the continued growth of the tree. Of course, this is an amazingly sustainable combination - trees that inherently sequester carbon from the atmosphere, turning carbon into oxygen, and producing oily pods as a base for truly clean diesel vehicles!
Much of the serious biodiesel and food research have come from a Florida non-profit, ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization out of North Fort Myers) on its Global Farm Research and Learning Center. Locally growing any food, especially one as versatile as Moringa, is a safety net in the event of any food shortage.
We have a friend in this area who is like the Johnny Appleseed of American folklore, sharing Moringa seeds and seedlings with everyone he knows! He was among the first to turn us onto Moringa, and now, I’m happy to share the benefits of Moringa with you - friends of sustainability!
For shade, for nutrition, for a fast, readily available food source - Moringa is the answer. We’ll have plenty of seed pods in the near future, so let me know if you would like to plant a Moringa tree of your own!